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Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race 2015 – Event Preview

15th Jun 2015

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Runners. Dots along the ridge of Crib Goch at the 2012 Dragon's Back Race™ © Jon Brooke

The legendary Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ will be taking place for only the third time, starting on Monday 22nd June. With live GPS tracking and regular video updates each day this year’s event promises to be compelling viewing.

The race is one of the world’s most challenging running events and follows the mountainous spine of Wales from Conwy Castle in the north, to Carreg Cennen Castle in the south. This incredible five day journey is approximately 300 kilometres long with 16,000 metres of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain.

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Above: 1992 Winners Helene Whitaker (neé Diamantides) and Martin Stone. During the 2015 race we will be publishing multiple 90 second videos on the event website as the race unfolds each day and Helene will be presenting these films and providing expert commentary. © Rob Howard

 

The original Dragon’s Back Race™ was held in September 1992 and entered running folklore for its extreme difficultly and surprise female winner. After a 20-year absence, the race was revived in 2012.  Helene Whitaker (neé Diamantides), the 1992 winner alongside Martin Stone, returned and incredibly she finished fourth.  Renowned adventure racer Steve Birkinshaw was the overall winner.  However, only 32 runners (out of 82 starters) managed to complete the full course and the reputation of the event as one of the hardest mountain races in the world was confirmed.

The 2015 race has once again attracted a strong field of 140 runners from Britain and around the world. It will be interesting to see how many manage to climb the iconic steps into Carreg Cennen Castle on the fifth day. 


Leading Contenders

The standout competitor in the men’s race is naturally Jez Bragg who as a UTMB winner, Fellsman and Te Araroa Trail record holder has been a force within ultra running for many years.  His top class pedigree means he attracts attention whenever he races. 

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Above: The North Face sponsored athlete Jez Bragg has just broken the Charlie Ramsay Round record, shaving 11 minutes of 1989 time. However, will he be able to recover sufficiently before the Berghaus Dragon's Back Race™ with just 8 days between the two. Jez is pictured here on the spectacular Te Araroa, New Zealand. ©Damiano Levati / The North Face

 

However, race director Shane Ohly, does not think for a moment that a Bragg win is a foregone conclusion: “It is a five day race over rough terrain and anything can happen. Jez, also completed a record breaking Ramsay Round the weekend before, which is an interesting approach to preparing for such an arduous event as the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™.”

Ohly continues: “There is a strong field of both male and female runners and while I do have an opinion on who I think will win, I keep that to myself for now!”

Lining up alongside Bragg are top British mountain ultra runners including Ed Catmur and Berghaus sponsored athlete, Charlie Sharp. 

Catmur has an orienteering background that is similar to the 2012 winner Steve Birkinshaw and in recent years he has excelled at the longer endurance races winning the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon and Spine Challenger. Sharp has recently joined the roster of Berghaus sponsored athletes and is a prolific podium placer at ultra races, seemingly every weekend of the year and with a win at the recent Excalibur Trail Marathon he seems to be in top form.

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Above: Charlie Sharp, pictured here training in the Lake District, has recently joined the roster of Berghaus sponsored athletes. He finished 2nd at the 2014 Berghaus Trail Chase™ and is a serial podium placer at ultra and mountain running events across the country. © Berghaus

 

The main international competition would seem to be from André Jonsson. The impressive Swedish runner has a load of podium results at tough mountain races in Europe including stage wins at the GORE-TEX TransAlpine. Rumour has it that he has been training in Wales earlier this year…

There is also a cohort of other strong British runners, including the likes of Jim Mann, Konrad Rawlik and John Duggan, who Ohly believes are likely to feature high up in the field. He explains why: “It is such a tough race. Runners get injured, some fade mentally and as Patrick Devine Wright proved in 2012, a relative unknown runner with a determined approach can record a superb result.”

Ohly continues: “It’s easy to dwell on the men’s race, but I actually think that the women’s field is more interesting with a pack of extremely talented runners. I believe that any one of these has the ability to feature at the front end of the overall race.”

Scanning though the list of female entries, Jasmin Paris, Lizzie Wraith, Beth Pascall, Carol Morgan and Joanna Zakrzewski stand out. 

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Above: Joanna Zakrzewski has recently joined the Berghaus team of athletes and many will be intrigued to see how well her world class 100km reputation translates to the rough and tough mountains of Wales? © Berghaus

 

Paris has been tearing up the mountain racing circuit for last few years but has managed to keep a relatively low profile, despite some impressive wins. She recently smashed Nicky Spink’s Fellsman’s record by over 40 minutes and recorded the highest ever place for a female runner. Wraith, with superb results at the UTMB, Lavaredo Ultra Trail and a Lakeland 100 win is another to watch and will be hoping to hit top form as she nears the end of a three months sabbatical from work, with the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ as her final target. Pascall and Morgan are both contenders with second and first place results respectively at the Lakeland 100 in recent years. Finally, the dark horse, Zakrzewski is relatively unknown in the mountain running world but she is a star of world 100km athletics with team and individual medals at the world championships. Although she has less mountain running experience than the other ladies, she did win the multi-day Atacama Crossing in 2010.


The Berghaus Team 

Berghaus, Britain’s leading performance outdoor brand, is the title sponsor of this iconic event and is supporting the event in many ways. Race director Shane Ohly comments: “What is really great about working with Berghaus is the depth of talent they have within their staff and sponsored athletes. Impressively, staff members Ivan Muckle, Angela Foster, Luke O’Connor and Dan Smith will be completing a day each of the race in a relay, with Berghaus athlete, and 2012 winner, Steve Birkinshaw leading them on Day 1.” 

The relay line up looks like this:
Day 1     Steve Birkinshaw
Day 2     Ivan Muckle
Day 3     Angela Foster
Day 4     Luke O’Connor
Day 5     Dan Smith

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Above: 2012 Dragon's Back Race™ winner Steve Birkinshaw will lead out the team of Berghaus staff on day 1. The replay team will be completing one day of the race each. © Jon Brooke.

 

What is fascinating about this line up is the impact that 2012 winner Steve Birkinshaw may have on the rest of the field, especially given that he is running the first, and arguably the toughest, day of the race. Certainly, the other competitors would be well advised not to race with Steve if he intends to go full throttle.

Alongside his colleagues in the relay team, Berghaus Castleford store manager Dan Gerachty, will be attempting to complete all five days alone. Certainly, he will have tales of amazing adventures to share afterwards with customers in store.

Berghaus sponsored athletes Charlie Sharp, Lizzie Wraith and Joanna Zakrzewski who we have already mentioned are likely to feature significantly in the race. There are pre-race interviews with these athletes here:


Following The Race Live

For the third edition of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™, members of the public will be able to follow the race live with GPS tracking of the competitors and a leaderboard of their positions as they pass through each checkpoint. 

Award winning Slackjaw Productions will also be filming the event and publishing multiple 90 second videos on the event website as the race unfolds each day. 1992 winner Helene Whitaker will be presenting these films and providing expert commentary.

It is going to be exciting and compelling viewing, which all kicks off on Monday 22nd June. Also, keep an eye on Twitter for updates from @DragonsBackRace and @TheRealBerghaus, using #DragonsBackRace.